The life of a professional dancer, or that of a hopeful professional dancer is a tough and rigorous one. Every year more than 5,000 aspiring dancers, ages 9 thru 19 enter the Youth America Grand Prix where they hope to win recognition, a scholarship, and for the older dancers a job contract. Only 300 ever make it into the New York City finals where this is possible.
Directed by Bess Kargman, First Position follows six dancers as they prepare for the competition and struggle with life, adolescence, and extraordinary discipline devoted to shaping their skills. One of the subjects is Michaela DePrince, a 14 year old girl who was adopted from an orphanage in Sierra Leone by a Jewish family in Philadelphia. She has memories of her parents’ murder and of being unable to save a teacher from soldiers as they came thru. Her goal is to prove that black ballerinas can be as graceful as your typical white ballerina regardless of the different build in her body type.
17 year old Rebecca Houseknecht from Maryland is the all-American teenage girl with the looks, talent, and skills. She goes to a regular school, has a boyfriend, and seemingly leads a fairly normal life aside from dancing. She dreams of joining a professional dance academy but those positions are hard to come by.
Joan Sebastian Zamora, a 16-year old from Colombia is in New York training away from his family. He calls his family as often as he can and is reminded of the sacrifices his family has made and the expectations both he and they have for him. His dream is to become a professional dancer.
Young Miko Fogarty, 12 from California wants to be a professional dancer and her overbearing mother tries to persuade her younger brother Jules to be one as well even though he lacks the passion and interest to become one.
Outside of Rome, 11-year old Aran Bell is a devoted dancer and travels every day to train with his trainer Denys Ganio who was a former principal dancer of the Ballet Marseilles. His best friend is Gaya Bommer, the last of our subjects who is also 11 and extremely good at ballet. She is clearly an 11-year old girl but when she is dancing a certain level of maturity sweeps over her and she becomes a mature dancer.
All of these kids have given up a certain amount of their childhood in order to devote the amount of time and effort to their craft necessary to become the best that they can be. They work thru injuries and other obstacles and push forward hoping to achieve their goal and success as a dancer. Even the families of these kids have made sacrifices so that their children can be closer to their trainers or have more opportunities.
The world of professional ballet is certainly a highly competitive one, but surprisingly so at such young ages. Kargman does a fine job of presenting her subjects smartly and staying on topic.
FINAL GRADE: B +
Reel Film News Movie Review by Bill Ayres